Don’t Lose the Offer: How to Manage Multiple Executive Job Offers Without Burning Bridges

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Getting the chance to consider multiple high-quality opportunities is the Holy Grail for a candidate in an executive job search.

While figuring out how to manage multiple offers is a great problem to have, it is nonetheless a problem in the employment market. Candidates may feel great stress as they try to settle on the best job at the right salary among competing professional priorities.

Here are the key areas to consider if you find yourself weighing multiple job opportunities :

1. Prepare a List of Formal Criteria

Depending on the model one is using, about 10-15 key components contribute to career satisfaction. They include compensation, intellectual fulfillment, culture, mission, work/life balance, influence, and independence, among others. Of those key criteria, most executives consider some critical, some nice-to-haves, and others less important. Know which criteria matter for you.

2. Rank the Opportunities

Once you have identified your key criteria, evaluate each job opportunity against those criteria. If one opportunity scores high on all criteria, it is clearly the winner.

However, you may not end up with a clear winner. More likely, each opportunity will be good in some areas while other opportunities will be better in others. In that case, you need to think through the interplay of the criteria. Ask yourself: “What things are most important to me? What compromises am I willing or not willing to make?”

Recruiters and executive search professionals, take note: Even if a particular criterion is not terribly important to a candidate, they will likely have some minimum baseline in mind for that criterion. For example, I’ve had many clients say that while compensation isn’t their most important variable in selecting a role, the pay “needs to be above $X.”

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3. Have a Negotiating Strategy

The first rule of negotiation is “Don’t lose the offer.” Deciding to extend an offer is a significant sign the employer values you. Clearly express your appreciation of the offer and your interest in the role before getting into negotiations.

Before those negotiations start, make sure you really understand the offer. How is the bonus determined? Is the equity really likely to be worth it, depending on different scenarios? You have to understand the offer before you can negotiate for more!

Once negotiations start, use your leverage effectively. Don’t overestimate your leverage or wield it like a hammer. Let the employer know you are really interested in the position but have other options.

Negotiating offers is fine and expected, but it has to be done wisely. Even if you get what you think is a low-ball offer, you shouldn’t assume the employer intends to low-ball you. Learn how and why the employer got to that offer, and explain your own position. It’s not just about what you want, but about effectively explaining your rationale for why what you want is appropriate to the situation.

Obviously, having another offer that will pay more is an important piece of leverage, but you must understand when you are comparing apples and oranges. The big offer from the multinational company may help you negotiate a startup to stretch a bit on base pay, but these are ultimately two very different kinds of opportunities and will likely be compensated as such.

If a preferred employer is moving slowly, try to coax them by gently conveying that you are very interested in the organization’s role but also have other, faster-moving options. You have to position yourself properly, but this can help speed up the process, or at least offer some perspective on where you stand with the organization in question.

4. Try to End Things the Right Way

Relationships matter, so be mindful of burning bridges with employers and recruiters. I’ve seen relationships end because of how executive candidates handled themselves during the search process. When and why you turn down a job may have implications for a recruiter’s willingness to present you with a different opportunity at some time in the future.

It’s fine to pull yourself out of a process early because you conclude it’s not the right fit. However, once you receive an offer, your messaging needs to be more thoughtful if you turn it down. Recruiters may not be happy if you turn down a job because you like another offer better, but they’ll get it. Be sure to convey that you took the opportunity seriously: “I really liked the organization and really loved the people and culture, but this other opportunity better fits my global interests.”

If you turn down an offer because of things you knew early on in the process, such as location or compensation, recruiters and employers won’t be so forgiving. Hearing “We’ve decided we don’t want to relocate” or “The compensation is too low” at the 11th hour is a likely way to end a relationship with that recruiter or employer. Additionally, recruiters don’t appreciate being used as a foil merely to drive up the offer from a different organization.

Rescinding an offer after accepting it or leaving a role after a short amount of time can have even bigger implications. It can be done — there are few absolutes in managing careers — but a lot of thought should be given to how it could affect future opportunities and how you should do it.

Receiving multiple offers can be professionally rewarding, but managing them can be tricky. As with most things, the key to success is to couple thoughtful strategy with appropriate action.

Howard Seidel is senior partner with Essex Partners.

By Howard Seidel